Shine on, you crazy diamond
When it comes to role playing games, there are few franchises in gaming that make me feel the way Sega’s Shining series does. Ever since the first time I fired up Shining Force II on the Sega Channel back in the mid-90’s, I’ve been utterly obsessed with the strategy RPG series, tracking down and playing through every mainline title in the series, including Shining Force III on the Saturn, going so far as to track down the subsequent Japanese chapters to finish the saga. While newer entries in the series haven’t quite resonated with me in quite the same way that the 16 and 32-bit iterations in the series did, mere mention of the Shining series is enough to keep me gabbing for hours and hours on end to anyone who will listen to my rambling reminiscing about the games’ finer points, such as their wealth of charming characters, grandiose battles full of memorable foes, and numerous secrets tucked away for clever players to uncover.
Suffice to say, when I found out we’d be seeing a copy of Blade Arcus From Shining: Battle Arena arrive here at Hey Poor Player HQ, I was more than a little excited to dig in and see what the fuss was all about. After all, the game is a 2D fighter based around Sega’s beloved line of role playing games – particularly the Japan-only PSP titles Shining Hearts and Shining Blade – allowing us to experience the series like never before. Sure, it seems like a wild shift in direction for the series, but considering the one-on-one fighter formula worked quite well for ATLUS’ Persona series with Persona 4 Arena and its sequel, Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax, I was eager to see just how well the Shining games could make the transition from cerebral strategy RPGs to an arcade-style brawler.
After spending hours crushing my foes in Blade Arcus, I’m happy to report that developer Studio Saizensen’s efforts are largely a success. At first glance, it might be easy to brush the game off as just another BlazBlue or Guilty Gear clone, but in reality that assessment couldn’t be any further from the truth. While those titles deal in lightning-fast flurries of combos, frantic air-dashing, and crazed, kinetic chaos, Blade Arcus is a bit more methodical when it comes to its melees. The game’s roster of characters have a solid weight to them, and rounds play out a bit more deliberately than those aforementioned titles. In fact, they feel much more akin to Capcom’s Street Fighter series than you might initially expect going in. There’s no air-dashes to speak of, and the game puts just as much emphasis on smart, defensive play as it does lengthy combo chains. The end result is a fighter that packs some welcome heft to its combat, ultimately feeling intimate (as a good duel should) than the showy spectacles we’ve come to expect from developers Arc System Works and French Bread’s fighters.
Blade Arcus‘ fighting system two teams of two against each other in best-of-six matches. The game makes use of the three attack buttons, allowing players to deliver light, medium, and hard attacks. Additionally, while you can’t tag your partner in like Capcom’s “Versus” games, you can use support gems to have them dive in to lend some momentary support. However, after each round you can choose which member of your team you wish to take into the fight, which allows you to adjust your play style accordingly if one of your characters is a bit fit for your current opponent. Additionally, attacking your enemy or being attacked fills up your Force Gauge which, when filled, allows you to execute your most powerful super moves that fill the screen with flashy effects and deal out some serious damage. In the end, Blade Arcus‘ system doesn’t do anything to really stand out from the crowd, but it doesn’t need to. What’s here works exceptionally well, delivering a simple and elegant fighting system with easy-to-execute moves, flashy visuals, and combat that packs some satisfying weightiness.
Blade Arcus‘ roster features 16 characters from the previously mentioned Shining Blade and Shining Hearts. Designed by longtime Shining artist Tony Taka, who’s been involved with the series since 2004’s Shining Tears on the PlayStation 2, the cast of characters are varied and interesting, and look great in the new sprite-based digs. Each of the game’s pugilists brings their own unique style to the table, from the fierce beast-man Fenrir with his Vega-like claws to the tsundere witch Melty, who brings a sweet tooth and an array of magical abilities into the arena. My personal favorite fighter, Pairon, delivers fierce volleys of kicks with the kind of dizzying speed that would make Chun Li blush. Overall, each of the game’s playable fighters feels great, and they bring a welcome mixture of magical abilities and weapons-based movesets that are fun to experiment with. Honestly, the only real disappointment with the lineup comes from Studio Saizensen’s reluctance to take advantage of the Shining series vast universe to bring some more unique races into the mix. The addition of a centaur or phoenix-type character would have gone a long way to capitalizing on the series’ rich universe. Instead, we’re left with a roster of well-crafted but tame combatants who never branch out beyond the tried-and-true humanoid designs you’d expect in any fantasy fighter, and that’s a shame.
If there’s one area where Blade Arcus suffers, it’s in the game’s relatively anemic selection of modes. The game provides the requisite Story, Versus, Training, and Online modes, with nothing else to pad the experience. When even the barest of brawlers usually provides at least a handful of extra features such as Survival, Challenge, and Time Attack Modes, this spartan selection of modes is pretty glaring. Even still, it’s still fun to plow through the Story Mode to experience each character’s quest, which involves tackling 8 opponents to claim the 7 sacred orbs – Blade Arcus‘ resident MacGuffin – which grant the wielder any wish they desire. There are are a handful of difficulty modes to play through as well. And while the normal difficulty is a bit of a breeze, the harder difficulty settings provide a solid challenge.
Unfortunately, during our pre-release time with Blade Arcus the game’s online component was unavailable for us to test out. However, skimming through the menus we noticed that the selection of modes is about what you’d expect to find from other games in the genre. Players can dive into online Casual matches or in Ranked Matches which allow you to rise through the ranks against the rest of the community. You can also avoid matchmaking altogether and just shoot players from your Friends List private game invites and lay the smack down to your pals. We’ll be spending some quality time with the game’s online component throughout launch week, and we’ll be sure to update this review permitting we experience anything out of the ordinary regarding connectivity issues. Hopefully the net code is solid though, as the game is a blast in local co-op, and it’s not hard to imagine Blade Arcus gaining a solid online community over time.
Just in case you couldn’t tell from the pictures in this review, Blade Arcus is one lovely looking game. The game features large, detailed character sprites that are wonderfully animated, right down to the movements of their individual fingers. From the way the game’s demonic megalomaniac Isaac’s robes flow as he dashes around the arena to the agile swordplay of Shining Hearts‘ protagonist Rick, each character’s various attack animations look simply phenomenal, and they move with a degree of fluidity rarely seen in sprite-based fighters. Special attacks feature the kind of flashy panache you’d expect as well, filling the screen with flashy effects as they decimate your opponents. As impressive as the character sprites are, the game’s backgrounds are impressive as well, featuring plenty of depth and vibrant colors. The only real gripe worth nothing is the fact they they’re largely static, which is in stark contrast to the characters themselves.
Blade Arcus‘ audio direction is also a treat. Fans of the series will recognize more than a few of the tracks that play during the matches and story sequences, and the anthemic melodies are brought to life with war songs comprised of driving percussion and blaring horns that do a great job of keeping you pumped as you clash swords with your enemies. The sound effects also fit the gameplay well, with successful strikes delivering satisfying impact sounds voices that suit their characters like a well-worn suit of armor.
In the end, Blade Arcus From Shining: Battle Arena is a satisfying slug-fest that’s only held back by its modest selection of modes. With only the requisite story and versus modes to keep you entertained, it won’t be hard to burn through the game’s offline content in a few sittings. Despite its lack of padding, what’s here is rock solid. Blade Arcus is built upon the sturdy framework of a polished fighting system and some of the finest visuals to ever grace a 2D brawler. And if the game’s online community manages to take off, Blade Arcus could prove to be a very worthy addition to Steam’s catalog of one-on-one fighters. If you’re a Shining series stalwart looking for a fresh experience set within the series’ universe, Blade Arcus From Shining: Arena Battle Delivers the goods. However, if you don’t particularly care for the series or are looking for a fighter with some meat on its bones, you might want to explore one of the more robust options available.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: Studio Saizensen ; Developer: Studio Saizensen ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: July 28, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by the publisher.